Black Mirror shows us a brain implant that lets a person record and replay memories. This amazing tech may be a part of our reality in the future.
Black Mirror brought viewers a dark, futuristic world that often sent chills running down our spine. One of the episodes of this series showed a brain implant that lets you record and view your own memories—and that of others. The idea seems game-changing, marvelous… and a bit terrifying.
However, is this actually possible, or is it just another improbable science fiction fantasy? Can we, someday, hope to record and rewatch our memories as in Black Mirror?
The Entire History of You
Memory has been a favorite of science fiction stories past and present, from Total Recall to Blade Runner. The idea of memory recording is not a novel concept either.
Sci-fi classic Brainstorm revolves around technology that enables the recording of the sensory experiences and emotions of a person. The 1995 film Strange Days shows us a black market of memories where people can buy and relive other people’s memory recordings.
A newer series, Solos, showed a similar scene in the final episode of the first season, Stuart. In it, Morgan Freeman’s titular character has been accused by Dan Stevens’s Otto of ‘stealing’ memories. The episode portrays memories as being similar to intoxicating drugs and Stuart as a ‘memory addict’.
However, the most notable is of course the third episode of the first season of Black Mirror titled The Entire History of You.
Like the rest of this series, this episode also attempts to show us the dark side of technological advancement. Never forgetting anything might seem like a dream come true, but is it?
Most of the people in the society of The Entire History of You have implants called ‘grains.’ The implant records everything that is seen and heard by the person perfectly. You can replay your memories—called ‘re-do’s—by using a small remote-like thing. You can even put up your memories on a big screen so that others can see them too.
What is Memory?
We have the amazing ability to record and store information in our brain and then retrieve it when necessary. We call this memory.
From a biological perspective, memory happens when a specific set of neurons are activated. Recalling a memory means reactivating the same set of neurons. For stronger memories, the neurons are connected to each other more strongly, i.e., they have more synaptic strength.
Memory is the basis for language, individual identity, and so much more. Progress would not be possible without it, but the thing about human memory is that it is notoriously unreliable.
Our senses constantly gather huge amounts of data. However, only a small portion of this data is stored with the capability of future recollection. Even the data points that make it to long-term memory eventually end up forgotten.
With time and age, all memory degrades. Even those events that we can remember are not remembered as it truly was. We don’t reproduce memories, but instead reconstruct them each time we recall them. This reconstruction is extremely prone to errors and distortions.
Memory is dynamic, and the information we get after an event may affect our memory of the event. This is called the misinformation effect, which causes memory distortions. Repeatedly imagining specific actions can even cause the formation of false memories. Even old dreams can sometimes create false memories.
So, with our memory being so untrustworthy, a system that grants us the ability of perfect recall would certainly be worth looking into.
Technological developments to improve memory and to assist brain function are already being heavily researched and developed. But will we ever get to a point where memories can be recorded, retrieved, and recalled perfectly?
Is it Possible to Record Memories?
Black Mirror shows us flawless, full-HD memory recordings that can be replayed on-demand at the touch of a button. Suffice to say… no one has done that just yet.
However, our future may very well see such technological advances. As of now, there are two ways to bring to life the events in Black Mirror.
Recording the World Around us
Black Mirror tech is actually easier to set up than it seems… if you’re not taking the memory out of the brain, that is.
All you would need is a video and audio recording device implanted in your body, or even a wearable. Smart glasses with recording capabilities are already a thing, and newly rebranded Meta proclaims that their smart glasses will “allow you to record audio and video with just a touch.”
A compact storage device connected to it with a large enough capacity is also all you would need. It could be implanted or carried. Contact lenses or glasses that serve as a viewing screen could be used to rewatch your ‘memories.’ Such lenses are also already being engineered.
In this case, though, we’re not exactly recording memories. We’re simply recording every single moment of the world around us in perfect quality.
Now, let’s talk about actually recording memories. This would mean interpreting the actual activity of neurons, the images that fall into and are processed by our eyes, and the auditory signals collected by our ears, in order to form a recording of memory.
The distinction is important, because these two methods have different applications and implications.
In a 2017 study, electrodes were implanted in the brains of patients affected with memory loss. Neural recordings during the formation of a memory were recorded by this ‘neural prosthetic.’ Those patterns were then simulated in the brain using electrodes at the time of recall. An improvement in memory performance was recorded through this effort.
Such studies show that recording and replaying memories is certainly not an impossibility. We have a long way to go until everyone becomes equipped with brain implants that replay memories on demand, but it very well may be possible someday.
Applications and Implications of Memory Recording
If we all had perfect memory, we would never forget an important meeting or where we put our keys. Crimes would be solved so much more easily.
However, sci-fi stories also show us the dark side of this. We might also get trapped into obsessive loops of memory, trying to solve our every suspicion. Or memory would become an intoxicating drug, resold and stolen by those seeking the “good life”. We would hold grudges forever.
We would also not be able to forget all the bad things in life. It would be so much harder to get over grief and trauma, and those embarrassing moments that made us cringe at ourselves will forever stay with us.
The selective storage of memories could be just as bad. Remember Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? It may not always end well if we can choose what to remember.
The most terrifying consideration is the danger of privacy becoming non-existent. All-permeating surveillance would become a much easier task. The privacy risk that such devices present is so dangerous that a paper has actually been published on the matter. It details a way to incorporate privacy protection into the grain of The Entire History of You, and such future devices.
However, this technology need not be commonplace. The best thing about memory recording and reconstruction is not its applications for all of us. If it becomes real, advancements like this can be game-changing for those affected by Alzheimer’s, dementia, or brain trauma.
If there is a possibility that those afflicted with memory loss can relive or retain their memories, then that possibility is worth making a reality.
A Future Where We Never Forget?
Balancing the ethical and social implications with the advantages of an accessible perfect memory solution is tricky, to say the least. As for its feasibility, with the pace of technological advancement, it is perfectly likely that sci-fi-esque memory recording capabilities will become real in the near future.
Stories like Black Mirror, while showing us the dark side of things, also risk creating a fear of technology that could erect barriers of paranoia to advancement. We should take the lessons from the stories we know to heart, and tread carefully, but also not let a fear of technology and its potential prevent us from changing the world!